The view from my couch
Fox Coverage of the UAW Daimler Chrysler 400
by Cheryl Lauer
March 8, 2004
Fox did a good job with this broadcast. Maybe it was because I find the Las Vegas track extremely boring as opposed to real racing we see at the Rockingham track, but the announcers' constant chatter didn't bother me as much as it did during the last race. There was also significant improvement as to more coverage of the field throughout the race. Use of the pointers was down a lot from the last broadcast, but they were still used too frequently.
I didn't expect much from this pre-race show as Fox always feels they have to load the Las Vegas intro with silly gags and give the viewers a "feel" for the city. We had the obligatory ridiculous skit involving Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond, where Hammond dressed up as Elvis. There was also a feature where Las Vegas native, Brendan Gaughan had a chat with fellow rookies, Kasey Kahne and Scott Wimmer over dinner. Myers also managed to insert a comment about the age range of the drivers in the race being from 18 to 48. What is it with this guy and age? He followed it up with his own little cliche asking who would win the race "One of Generation Nextel or a veteran?" Never let it be said that a Fox employee missed the opportunity to create their own cliches. Another silly feature continued from the last race: a ridiculous soap opera segment.
When they finally went to the announcers in the booth, Mike Joy explained that we could find where our favorite drivers were starting while watching "the crawl" at the bottom of the screen. I can't help but feel this is just another tactic by Fox to avoid showing a driver's sponsor. I also personally think it is disrespectful to both the drivers and the fans to display the starting grid in this way. But I guess it allows Fox to save time in which to insert more commercials by "paying" sponsors later.
Mike told the viewers about which drivers would be starting at the back of the field because of going to back-up cars, including Jeff Gordon and Ward Burton. Next Mike told us about a "big" announcement and went to Jeanne Zelasko in the pits. She told us that former football player, Troy Aikman, would be forming an alliance with car owner, Rick Hendrick. This football theme continued after the race began when she again interviewed another football player in the pits.
As the race was finally about to take the green flag, Darrell Waltrip told the viewers "Ah, this is the best part of the day here..." I wasn't sure if he meant the start of the race or the focus on himself as he screamed his silly phrase, to which he added "Viva Las Vegas" this week as well.
From the start of the race, it was very obvious that Mike Joy and the team was working hard to keep the viewers updated on a lot of the drivers and the producer was showing a lot of racing throughout the pack. Mike immediately alerted us that Kyle Busch has brushed the wall and DW told us when he hit it again a few laps later. Unfortunately, the dreaded pointers were being used beginning with lap 4. At lap 8, Fox posted a graphic showing that Jeff Gordon had already moved up to 31st position.
Kyle Busch came in to pit at lap 9 and Matt Yocum covered the stop, saying the were fixing his bent in fenders. I may have missed it, but I wasn't aware that Busch went behind the wall until it was mentioned on the "status" line around lap 73. At lap 10, Mike told us that Kirk Shelmerdine was going behind the wall, and at lap 12, Larry McReynolds told us that 62 year-old, Morgan Shepherd, was taking his car to the garage. Not sure why his age was important, but this seems to be a big issue with both TV networks lately.
Mike was excellent in telling us how far ahead the leader was from second place each time that Fox went to commercial, beginning with the first commercial around lap 13-14. When Fox returned at lap 18, and often throughout the day, I noticed that Fox displayed the lap count as lap X of 267. I really appreciated this information, rather than XX laps to go.
Next, Mike told us that Ryan Newman was having some handling problems with his car as was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who was a few seconds from going a lap down already. When the team was discussing how well Jeremy Mayfield had qualified and was running, Steve Byrnes mentioned that he had finished second here in 2002. Dick Berggren reported that Kahne was having some handling problems and that Jimmy Johnson had now moved to second place. Mike mentioned that Matt Kenseth had moved up 10 positions since the start of the race. Larry pointed out that Earnhardt was about to be lapped at lap 23. I had some confusion here as I thought he got lapped and then later when he pitted, Fox said he was about to be lapped, so had pitted. I wasn't really clear if he was already one lap down and about to be lapped a second time or not, but eventually the announcers explained how many laps he had lost at the time.
Next I was also confused when DW said that Carl Long had gotten into the loose stuff and Fox showed a car coming onto pit road, which I though to be Long. Later, they showed the car again and I saw that it was Greg Biffle. Again, there was a lot of talking going on from the announcers about different things, but I don't think I ever actually heard that Biffle had taken his car to the garage until a race recap much later in the day. I guess it was more important to have pit road interviews with more football players. But then again, my brain may have just tuned out everything when I heard they were wasting green flag racing with interviewing non-participants.
Around lap 29, Fox showed the 8 car pulling into the pits and Jeanne told us he had been black-flagged by NASCAR for failing to keep up the minimum speed. Mike told us that Newman was also coming in early to try and fix his handling problems as well. Fox went to another commercial, but showed us a replay of the pass for the lead when they returned. Fox was quick to switch to Scott Wimmer's car which was blowing up and Mike told us that this was bringing out a caution. One of the pit reporters later reported that Wimmer had a problem in the valve train and was out for the day.
Fox did an excellent job covering yellow-flag pitstops with Dick saying that Tony Stewart had reported a vibration in his car. Fox unveiled a new graphic that seemed very good and showed the top 10 order real-time as cars exited the pits. Mike told us that Johnson would have to return to the pits to repair a fender from a pit road collision. The producer was quick to queue up a replay which showed the 48 getting together with Kevin Lepage as he exited his pit stall.
During the caution, Jeff Hammond used the Cutaway Car to illustrate the recent safety innovations in the cars. This segment was brought to us by a new sponsor. Fox then showed the repairs being made to the 48 car. Mike told us that Jeff Green had been penalized because his team used two air wrenches and would have to restart at the end of the longest line. We also told that Earnhardt's team had made an additional pit stop and lost two more laps.
Mike also told us that Johnny Benson got the free pass back to the lead lap as a result of the caution. Fox always made sure to tell the viewers who received the pass during every caution and I appreciated the information. Too bad the crew seems to be searching for their own cute little name for this rule and used silly things like "Pardon from the Oval Office" at times. I didn't like NBC's name for this rule and I don't like any of the names Fox is trying either. Why does the rule need a name at all?
After the restart, Fox showed that Stewart was catching Kahne for the lead. They showed Sterling Marlin making an unscheduled pitstop in the picture-in-picture while following the leaders. Matt later followed up showing that Marlin had a cut tire. When Fox returned from their next commercial, rather than showing us green-flag racing, they had a feature on what activities Earnhardt had done in Las Vegas. Couldn't this have been shown in the pre-race show or during a caution?
Fox told us that Jamie McMurray had just brushed the wall and quickly showed us a replay of what happened. Matt reported that he may have knocked the toe-in out and then we got an explanation of what toe-in was using the Virtual Garage.
When Fox returned from their next break, they showed a feature on the new grandstand at Las Vegas. Again, why is this kind of thing shown during green-flag racing and not the pre-race show?
The Fox cameramen and producers were really on the ball during this broadcast and caught a lot of action during the race. The first being the tailend of Ryan Newman looping his car at around lap 80. They also provided several replays of the incident as well. During the caution, Fox told us that Green had moved up to 16th position after having to restart at the back of the field earlier. DW pointed out that Bobby Labonte had moved up to 6th position.
At the next restart, Mike explained that although Earnhardt was 4 laps down, he had the option to start in front of Ricky Rudd who was the first car a lap down. At lap 96, Larry pointed out that Jeff Burton had moved up to 13th from his 29th starting position. Someone pointed out that the 8 car had quickly moved to the back of the field and had almost hit the wall.
The Fox announcers still need to be more aware of when the producer is playing driver radio communications and be quiet so the viewers can hear them. They were a little better today, but DW never seems to be able to stop himself from continuing to talk. It was good to see that later in the race, the producer tried to play the scanner chatter after the fact so the announcers knew when it was coming.
Around lap 107, one of the announcers pointed out that Kevin Harvick had moved up to 4th position and Matt reported that McMurray had pitted twice to make repairs to his car. At this point, Larry made an excellent observation, pointing out that many of the drivers in the top five had run the Busch race the day before and obviously learned something about the track that helped them on Sunday.
It was particularly disappointing that DW had to say his silly Boogity phrase again when Kahne was passing Kurt Busch for position. Once a day isn't enough for DW or were we being too distracted by the racing?
At lap 119, Steve reported on how Mayfield's car was running. Next we got to see the leader running alone on the track while we saw the 8 car sitting in the garage in picture-in-picture. I think the viewers already got the message that Earnhardt was having trouble, did we need to see his car just sitting there instead of showing the racing on the track? This is where both networks get too carried away with coverage of the 8 car at all times. When other drivers are 18 laps down, we don't see this much coverage.
Eventually Fox returned to the race just in time to catch the 43 car hitting the wall. During this caution, they showed the new panning roof cam that was installed on the cars this week and illustrated it using the one on Mark Martin's car. After covering pit stops, Steve told us that Jeff Gordon's team had pitted twice in an effort to remove a rubber from his car to improve the handling.
After the restart, Fox happened to be following Bill Elliott's progress and so caught it when he got into Michael Waltrip. They queued up several good replays of the wreck including one from Waltrip's in-car camera. Before the resulting pit stops, Mike pointed out that there were 21 cars on the lead lap. I really enjoy this kind of update by the announcers and the fact Fox showed pit stops before breaking for commercial.
On the lap 175 restart, Fox pointed out that Kahne went up the track and lost a lot of positions and showed us a replay of what happened. Next Mike yelled "TURN TWO!" and pointed out that Scott Riggs in the 10 car had gotten sideways, but didn't wreck. Calm down just a bit, Mike. You're gonna give us old veteran fans a heart attack! A little bit later DW yelled that someone had blown up in turn 1. Unfortunately, neither of these incidents were shown on camera. When we found out it was Kevin Lepage, Larry pointed out that he had been in 13th position before that. As the field went under caution, Mike pointed out that Kahne had fallen as far back as 19th because of his earlier problem.
After coverage of pit stops, Fox kept showing a shot of the 48 car on pit road, but didn't explain why they made a couple extra pit stops. Instead Matt talked about Kenseth's pit stop and we heard some radio talk between the driver and his crew chief. Eventually, someone mentioned that the 48 was back in, but they still did not explain why at the time. After Fox returned from commercial, they played some good radio communications from Kurt Busch concerning the handling of his car. Finally Mike mentioned the 48 was back on pit road and Larry pointed out they were probably making these extra stops to top off on fuel.
When one of the Cingular on-screen commercials (disguised as a poll) came on the screen, it pretty much covered up the in-car camera view from Martin's car. So now we are getting commercials on top of commercials!
After the next restart, Larry pointed out the race track seemed to be going away from Kahne's car, but coming to Jeff Gordon. DW suggested that maybe it had something to do with the difference between a veteran driver and a rookie.
Fox happened to be listening in on the leader (Kenseth's) radio when we heard his spotter say there was debris in turn 2. Then Mike told us that NASCAR was throwing the caution because of some debris at the start/finish line. It was great that Fox quickly followed up by showing us a large piece of sheet metal on the track.
As the cars exited from pit road during this caution, I noticed Jimmy Johnson was near the front and Fox told us that he only took two tires. Larry pointed out that his tires had only 7 laps on them, so this was probably not a bad move. Unfortunately, the graphic that Fox had been using to show the top 10 exiting the pits didn't list Johnson on there and I wondered about it's accuracy. After commercials, Fox showed another graphic of the top five on the track and now included Johnson as 3rd.
After the restart, Fox used picture-in-picture to show a battle between the 24 and 18 for 6th position and the leader in the other shot. I had just wondered why Newman wasn't getting a free pass when Larry answered my question by pointing out that he was two laps down. Mike said that Gaughan was having a problem in turn 2 and thought he might have a tire going down, but that he might have just picked up trash on his tires from getting so high on the track.
Fox again caught some action when following a battle among several cars for position, when Dale Jarrett and Johnny Sauter got together. This was excellent as were the numerous replays of the incident from different angles, each of which didn't make it clear as to which driver had caused the incident. Larry pointed out that you could see DJ's hands really working on the steering wheel to keep control of his car. I'm not sure what Fox does with their cameras that provides such clear views into the cockpit of the cars, but this is one of the best things about their broadcasts that I have noticed over the years.
Larry pointed out that the 17 and 20 cars were battling for second 1.25 seconds behind Kevin Harvick, the leader at the time. Mike pointed out that Johnson's tire gamble had not paid off and that he'd fallen from 3rd to 7th right after the restart. After returning from a commercial, Mike told us that Kenseth had moved up to 2nd and we got to see a replay of the pass. Larry pointed out that McMurray and Kahne appeared to be the fastest at this point and had moved up to 4th and 7th respectively. After Kenseth passed Harvick for the lead, Fox showed the interval and commented on how he was pulling away. Matt Yocum reported that McMurray was now the fastest car on the track and that Kenseth's crew chief, Robby Reiser, had told his driver on the radio that he might be the one they would have to deal with before the race was over.
As the laps wound down and fuel became an issue, the pit reporters were on top of that issue and told us which of the leaders thought they could make it on fuel or not. Matt reported that the 17 and 42 said they were okay. Steve reported that Bobby Labonte said his car didn't feel right and pointed out he was losing a lot of spots on the track. At 22 laps to go, Dick reported that Kahne's crew chief, Tommy Baldwin, thought that maybe they'd be okay on fuel.
With less than 20 laps to go, Fox broke for commercial. This really surprised me since they'd had a lot of commercials already throughout the day. They returned at 16 to go and did stay with the race until it's conclusion. They showed Kyle Petty battling with Johnson for 13th position and mentioned the good run Kyle was having. At 5 laps to go, Larry alerted us to the fact that Harvick was out of gas and the camera followed him until he got onto pit road. Afterwards, Fox told us that the crew had apparently had too many men over pit wall when pushing the car off pit road and that NASCAR had called Harvick back in as a penalty. Later, Mike told us that NASCAR had rescinded the penalty. With 3 laps left in the race, Mike told us that Kenseth had a 4.5 second lead over second place Kahne. On the final lap, he told us that Brian Vickers had also run out of gas. Larry did a rundown of the top 10 finishers and then Fox went to commercial before showing Victory Lane.
As with the last race, I found this long block of commercials very annoying while the winner had to sit in his car and wait for TV to give him the go ahead to get out and celebrate. Not only did he have to wait through a bunch of self-promotions for Fox shows and local commercials, but when Fox returned, we were told it was the Nextel Post-Race Show. Then Fox had Myers and Hammond in the corner of Victory Lane, giving us some words of wisdom before the winner could get out of his car. They might as well just tape the whole Victory Lane and show it on a highlight show? Steve Byrnes interviewed Kenseth and other pit reporters interviewed several of the top finishers. Next we had more words of wisdom from Myers, which were thankfully drowned out by the track announcer in Victory Lane. I'm betting Fox won't have their guys doing this type of close-out show again.
Overall this was a good broadcast for Fox, with a lot of the field covered during the day. I still feel there are too many people talking at once and too much stuff on the screen, but overall it was a much better effort than their last broadcast. The pointers continue to be used excessively and the starting grid needs to be shown. Also, I noticed a lot of commercials over previous years on Fox. I recently read that Fox had stated that this is the first year they hope to make a profit on their NASCAR broadcasts. So I guess that explains the increase in commercials and as usual, the viewers ultimately pay the price.
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